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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 March, 2005, 19:46 GMT 20:46 UK
My Special Partner
Japan has the fastest ageing population in the world and the race is on to develop anything to help senior citizens remain independent.

Akino with her doll
My Special Partner
Wednesday, 13 April, 2005
1500 BST on BBC Two

By 2050, the over 65s in Japan will make up a third of the population, and the average woman lives to 85; the longest in the world.

Akino Okano is a 78-year-old widow. Her husband died eight years ago.

From the age of 22, she lived with her husband's parents and 11 other members of his family. But they have all died or moved away and she now lives in an enormous farmhouse alone.

"Now everything is very convenient, but I feel lonely," she says. "When I come back from being out for the day and the house is dark, I feel alone and sad."

In true Japanese style, the country has turned to technology and robots as a cost effective way of looking after their elderly... and even providing them with companionship.

Best friend

Akino is introduced to a talking doll called Primo Puel. Originally designed to be a substitute boyfriend for young single girls in the workforce, it has become an unexpected hit with elderly people across Japan.

Since they came on to the market five years ago, more than one million dolls have been sold.

Programmed with a vocabulary of 280 words, the dolls talk, laugh and might even ask for a kiss!

Now when Akino gets home, her new friend is waiting for her and alleviates much of her loneliness.

But Primo is not the only hi-tech addition to Akino's life. She also lives with a pioneering computer system that constantly monitors her health.

Apart from her physical state, the system also monitors her movements around the house. If it detects anything unusual in her daily routine, someone will call immediately to find out what is wrong.

Just like her new doll, this monitor makes Akino feel less vunerable.

"It makes me at ease," she says, "it makes me feel safe."

Producer: Sarah Waldron
Series producer: Kiran Soni
Executive producer: Karen O'Connor

Japan's hi-tech carers
12 Apr 05 |  Golden Years

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